Dark Phoenix Review: A Middling Finale To An Uneven Superhero Series Flameout

2.5

Summary

Fittingly, Simon Kinberg’s long-awaited conclusion to the uneven X-Men franchise is equally as uneven. While it’s never as laughably bad as The Last Stand or with eye-roll-inducing special effects like Apocalypse, it just won’t stand alongside X2 or Logan the way that it clearly wants to.

In 1975, Jean Grey accidentally killed her parents and was brought to live at Charles Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters. In 1992, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs the greatest power in the universe and must face her terrifying past. Simon Kinberg had a difficult task ahead of him when producing an adaptation of the most beloved X-Men comic: The Dark Phoenix Saga. The last time around, in X-Men III: The Last Stand, Jean Grey and her fiery half didn’t fare so well. But then came X-Men: Days of Future Past, which reset the franchise’s timeline and paved the way for a do-over. This time, they’d do it right.

Unfortunately, this go-around doesn’t cut it, either.

In so many ways, this should be an excellent film, and elements of that excellence do shine through from time to time. However, long stretches are intensely boring, emotional setups and payoffs just don’t match up, and our villain is tedious and unmotivated.

Let’s start with the good: First, Hans Zimmer’s score is fantastic, reminiscent of Man of Steel at times (Zimmer’s score was the best thing from that film as well—by far!). Furthermore, some of the long-woven threads of conflict and discord within the X-Men family, established in previous films, begin to pay off here. The world loves mutants now. The X-Men are celebrities, acting very publicly, rather than covertly. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) lives off in a mutant commune, not causing any trouble (I would watch a whole movie just set there, by the way). Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) have become disillusioned with Xavier’s (James McAvoy) public choices for the X-Men family. Many of the earlier films set this up: with Mystique’s self-consciousness about her blue outward appearance and a desire to protect mutants from humanity rather than to protect humanity at the potential cost of mutant lives.

This turns the tables on the ever-noble Charles when a running theme of the series arises: “What they don’t understand, they fear. What they fear, they destroy.” In this case, they’re talking about Jean Grey and her newfound powers. She’s unable to control her emotions, which leads to much mayhem and fighting. The film just stops working at this point.

Sophie Turner and James McAvoy demonstrate moments of real greatness. On the other hand, the great Jessica Chastain–who plays an alien trying to get hold of the Phoenix power and whose motivation or backstory are never explained, even slightly–is stilted, making January Jones’ Emma Frost look joyful and bouncy. I will say that the underdeveloped, unexplained aliens, even when in human form, really feel alien, even in their movements.

Many moments are incredibly emotionally inconsistent, and some deaths and peril are underdeveloped. Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan (Cyclops) have no chemistry, yet we need to feel their connection to feel the peril. Yet we feel nothing at all. 

For all the explosive effects (which do outstrip the deeply disappointing, horrendously bad Apocalypse), no one has really been able to adequately capture the truly cosmic scope of the Dark Phoenix Saga, or of recapturing what First Class and Days of Future Past promised us in terms of emotional investment. This isn’t a terrible film, but unfortunately, that’s really the best I can say about it. So much of it feels middling and lifeless, leaving us wishing for more of what came before. 

Tyler Howat

Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.

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